Adventures in Familiarity

When Traveling, Active Explorers Won’t Risk Comfort


Look at a dozen of your friends’ Instagram feeds and you’ll see a series of spontaneous moments taken from some of the world’s most exotic locations. Here’s what you won’t see: the planning, consideration and research that went into it.

It turns out that those moments of seemingly spontaneous adventure are often meticulously planned. That’s one of the many insights from our latest survey into the Active Explorer, one of the fastest-growing segments in the travel industry. We were surprised to discover that this highly experiential group always kept an eye on the safe and familiar.

Basecamp: Trusted Hotel Chains

Surprisingly, nearly a third of Active Explorers prefer hotel chains for their accommodations.  In addition, nearly half believed that staying in one place is the best way to relax. Names like Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Kimpton offer more than shelter – they offer a taste of the familiar. It seems that no matter where you go, you need a place to call home – the more familiar, the better.

Come Aboard, We’re Expecting You

Despite the value they place in traveling with freedom and independence, about half of Active Explorers express interest in cruises — even if they’ve never taken one. On the surface, a cruise seems very un-Active – playing shuffleboard on the Lido deck clashes with the extreme lifestyles we see on their social feeds. While it seems counterintuitive, it makes sense when you realize they’re craving a familiar base. Recent campaigns from Norwegian Cruise Lines emphasize the point that a cruise ship can serve as a mobile basecamp for exotic destinations.

Risk vs. Reward

Although there are extremes at both ends, traveling Active Explorers are in a constant game of balance. Some love to ping-pong from one spontaneous adventure after another, while others have their itinerary, reservations and all, planned to the half-hour. But most of them are seeking that balance of spontaneity and reassurance that keeps our senses awakened and our spirit nourished.

So What?

It’s not a surprise that Active Explorers are looking for comfort to sustain their sense of adventure on the road. What’s interesting is how they’re doing it. There’s an opportunity for well-known, “safe” brands to provide familiarity and reassurance even when their customers are exploring their wild side.

Active Explorers and Travel: UnScripted Adventure

shutterstock_354764354The results from Williams Helde’s latest Active Explorer User Group revealed that for Active Explorers, travel is a basic need right up there with food, water and shelter. We also discovered that travel is often inspired by books, music, movies and more.

But once consumers get the travel bug, what happens next? What’s going through their minds as they explore their options? What is their ultimate objective? And as marketers, how can we leverage their desires and push the right buttons through targeted communications?

The results from our user group point to a few key insights regarding purchase considerations for Active Explorers.

85% of Active Explorer respondents search for new experiences when they travel

User group respondents strongly agreed or agreed that when traveling, they prefer new activities they can’t do at home. Active Explorers are, by nature, always in pursuit of the “new,” whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime view or unique regional meal. In place of the sanitized bus tour or curated restaurant checklist, Active Explorers would rather go on a winding back-road trip to a country winery they saw in a film once, or learn how to make pasta from a legendary local chef.

Here’s how one respondent described the perfect travel experience:

“Taking art classes – learning from new artists. Trying new food – experiencing the difference. Visiting museums – understanding old cultures. Speaking with new people – learning about living in different places. Snorkeling, sightseeing, eating; because there’s always something new to discover.”

For Active Explorers, “new” doesn’t have to involve exercise

We asked our Active Explorer User Group what they like to do most, even when they’re not traveling. While more physical activities such as hiking, swimming, biking and going to the gym were high on the list, respondents most frequently responded that they enjoy trying new restaurants.

The findings also suggest that intellectually enriching activities such as theater, cooking classes and live music also rate very highly. More than anything, Active Explorers love to be immersed in everything they do, at home or in their travels, experiencing the world first-hand and never letting opportunities pass by.

The art of the new

We know that travel is the art of the new. Brands that help Active Explorers plan, activate and enjoy their travel, and all of the new experience it offers, are fast becoming industry tastemakers. Airbnb tapped into this trend with their recent Live like a Local campaign. It was a compelling appeal to Active Explorers, urging travelers to live in their destinations, rather than simply touring them. To experience a new city as if it were home, and in the process, discover the truly new, exciting facets of a place. Active Explorers, as many brands have noticed, are demanding anything but the typical from their travel.

So what does it all mean? Basically, that marketers have to train themselves to look into every single touchpoint of their brand, from customer service to mobile experiences to word-of-mouth, to identify moments of the new and unexpected. It could be as simple as a tongue-in-cheek mobile alert, or a surprise discount at the register as a spontaneous loyalty reward. But those moments will be far more impactful than a native advertisement or a video.

The Active Explorer User Group and your brand

We’d love the chance to put this group of loyal, engaged Active Explorer consumers to work for your brand. If you would like to learn more about how the user group findings can help your brand, email us or call us at (206) 285-1940.


Stories that inspire: where we get the travel bug

shutterstock_99218126As we discovered in our last post, for Active Explorers, travel is a need right up there with food, clothing and shelter. Everyone wants to take vacations to get away, whether from the stress of work or the dreary weather of home, but what inspires Active Explorers to travel? What’s that moment of motivation – when the light bulb goes on in their heads and they start making their plans? More importantly, is there an insight here for marketers?

In our recent travel study, conducted with a 258-member Active Explorer User Group, there were a few key findings concerning the travel consumer’s purchasing journey. The first was inspiration. Active Explorer travelers are motivated to travel based on specific inspirations, influencers from books to music, and more. Here’s a glimpse of the sparks that ignite an Active Explorer’s interest. These aren’t just apt observations, they’re actionable ways to communicate with potential travelers and Active Explorers.

For Active Explorers, travel is often inspired by movies, books and music.

Of the participants surveyed, 61% agree or strongly agree that movies, books and music influence their desire to travel. For Active Explorers, travel is often geared toward exploring new places and cultures, or recharging and getting away from the day-to-day grind. But even so, movies, books and music are significant sources of inspiration. Here are some verbatims from respondents:

  • “Reading books sparks my imagination for travel. Movies and TV shows also play a role. I like to be interested in the places I choose to go to.”
  • “Pictures and offers, new things I haven’t seen. . .and things I’ve seen in movies”
  • “Seeing locations in movies or reading about them in books. Also, seeing where friends travel.”

It’s a simple truth that we’ve all likely experienced: movies often show viewers a vivid picture of amazing destinations and unforgettable sights. So it’s no surprise that films are often mentioned as sources of inspiration for travel among our respondents. One user group member credited the James Bond movies specifically. James Bond: travel agent.

But Active Explorers are being inspired to travel on the small screen, too. Consider the Netflix original series Bloodline, which has increased tourism traffic and interest in the Florida Keys, especially at the Moorings Resort in Islamorada. Or the tourism industry that continues to thrive in the wake of off-the-air series like Sex in the City or Downton Abbey. The essence of a place, beautifully crafted by television, not only stokes the imagination, it’s the catalyst that impels travelers to seek first-hand experience. So join in, capture the essence of these places, and make it your business to get people there.

Active Explorers are inspired to travel by, well, traveling. The more they travel, the more they want to find more corners of the world to explore. In fact, 64% of Active Explorer user group respondents agree or strongly agree that they begin planning their next trip right after taking a trip.

One Active Explorer respondent expressed it this way: “Going on vacation makes me want to go somewhere new the next time.” It’s not simply that Active Explorers are avid travelers, they’re in insatiable pursuit of the new, from destinations and cultures to sights and tastes.

All of this means that marketers can no longer rely on simple benefit messages to create an emotional connection between their product and their best customers. The most successful brands are creating experiences – through storytelling, music and video – that engage and inspire their customers to see their brand as a call to adventure.

Look at the way Jeep uses storytelling and music to convince their customers to find their own inspiration. Watch how Corona tells their customers to “find your beach,” using nothing but sea, sun and the ambient sound of waves.  They’re creating personal entertainment experiences that evoke our yearn to travel and associate themselves with wanderlust.

Stories. Images. Music. These are your tools. Now, inspire your customers to move.

Your travel brand and the Active Explorer User Group

Looking to get a better understanding of how communicating with Active Explorers can help achieve your revenue goals this year? The complete user group findings are available to select marketers at no cost, so give us a call. Let’s get started.

For additional information, please contact us at or call (206) 285-1940.


Gotta Get Away: Capitalize on an Emerging Travel Need

shutterstock_247816624Before we begin, let’s go over the essential human needs: Food. Shelter. Security. Travel.

Wait. Travel?

That’s right. Over the last several years, travel has gone from being a luxury to a basic human need. At least that’s what was revealed in an April 2016 travel study conducted by Williams Helde. Think of it: a well-educated, fitness loving, healthy-minded and affluent segment with a penchant for discovery and novelty considers travel an authentic need.

For Active Explorers, travel is not optional. Here’s why we know it to be true.

Active Explorers are traveling more than ever. We expected that most had taken two trips in the past year. We were surprised to learn that 49% of Active Explorers took 3-4 trips in the past 12 months. Another 29% had taken 5 or more trips in the past year. That’s a dramatic increase from years past.

They’ve caught the YOLO bug. They consistently expressed their need to see new places and cultures.  “My own need to explore and see new places,” said one respondent, “eating new kinds of food, comes from the knowledge that I might not get the opportunity to do this when I get a desk job and I am stuck paying bills until the day that I die.”

They rank travel among their highest priorities. Consistently, this psychographic prioritizes new experiences over the tried and true. As one person remarked, “I like sampling new foods, visiting new places, relaxing… I want to step out of my life on vacation and try new things.”

So what can all this mean for your brand? Knowing this, travel brands have an opportunity to tap into deeper emotional territory with their messaging, forging a stronger bond that can increase sales.

Travel isn’t a destination. It’s a state of mind. Even as they get off the plane, Active Explorers are constantly in search of the next great adventure. If your brand can help enable that dream, whether that means helping save, plan, pack, or inspire, you have a place on the travel spectrum.

Travel is the celebration of what’s possible. Many Active Explorers use a vacation to try out new versions of themselves: kayaker, salsa dancer, wine enthusiast. It’s not so much about where they go as it is who they can become. If your brand can help maintain Active Explorers live the lives they’ve imagined, through fitness, food, fashion, durable goods, and more, you’ve got a leg up on your competition.

Travel is the art of the new. What part does your brand play in bringing something new to these consumers? Recognizing the explorer aspect of Active Explorers means you may have an opportunity to emphasize “new” in your marketing communications and your brand’s role in the consumer travel experience.

Watch this space. Over time, we’re going to reveal study insights across the travel experience. As we share what we’ve learned, we will include potential implications and thought-starters that can increase sales.

In the meantime, if you have questions about how our study might apply to your brand’s business challenges, give us a call at (206) 285-1940 or email us at

Start from the beginning – Check out the first blog post in our travel series: Insights from your best customers.

Insights from Your Best Customers

Introducing the Active Explorer User Group

shutterstock_402007237As marketers, we spend the bulk of our time finding and communicating with our most loyal, affluent and engaged customers. But what do our consumers really think? Now, you can ask them directly. 

Within the Active Explorer segment, consumers are engaging with brands at a whole new level. Pioneered by Williams Helde Marketing Communications, the Active Explorer User Group is a consumer panel that marketers can use to explore, understand and monetize one of the most valuable and profitable consumer mindsets.

Marc Williams, our President here at Williams Helde, tells the story behind our Active Explorer findings best:

“We discovered a segment of people searching for and aspiring to active, healthy lifestyles was growing like gangbusters. The closer we looked, the more interesting this segment became: they were powerfully brand-loyal, willing to spend more to yield better experiences, and more likely to influence friends. In short, these were the people marketers spend big money to talk to.

So, what’s the Active Explorer User Group all about? The sampling consists of U.S. households earning more than $75,000 annually, with some college education, who buy organic and fresh foods when possible and who work out at least a few times per week. Behaviorally, they are outdoor enthusiasts with pursuits ranging from swimming to hiking, and everything in between.

In April 2016, we turned our Active Explorer research and travel industry observations into a reality. Williams Helde conducted an online survey with our Active Explorer User Group to understand more deeply their motivations for travel, how they plan and book their trips, as well as preferred activities and styles of travel. It’s just one in a series of research studies planned with this consumer panel.

The Active Explorer User Group and YOUR brand

The discoveries we unearthed were exciting, so we’re making the user group available at no charge to select marketers who want to explore, understand and monetize their brand’s relationship with the Active Explorer.

If you’re thinking that Active Explorers aren’t relevant to your brand, we urge you to take a second look. Brands don’t have to be active healthy lifestyle companies. There’s a reason why McDonald’s is retooling menus to include healthy options, why Costco is the number one seller of organic goods in the world and why Gap continues to launch extensive active wear collections. Each of them is making a big push into this demographic – and reaping the rewards.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Active Explorer User Group can be used to grow your brand, please contact us at or (206) 285-1940.

Download our Active Explorer guide to learn more about this critical consumer segment.


The Perfect Time to Reach Your Customers

As winter drives us inside, it’s easy for anyone, even the most devoted Active Explorer, to lose touch with the rhythms of the outdoors. Cycling to work might become a quick drive, or a hiking trip may be sacrificed for a weekend with central heating and a favorite TV show.

Despite the weather, brands can still communicate with customers who fit this Active Explorer persona: the consumer who relentlessly pursues improvement of both their body and mind.

We know that even when these people are driven indoors, they don’t stop exploring. They’re inquisitive by nature and open to brands that share their values. Some stay indoors and make grand plans for longer days. Some rise to the challenge of harsher conditions, reveling in the adrenaline rush. Even when they look like they’re standing still, they’re thinking about their ski equipment, or poring over maps for their next big trail.


The “offseason” is the perfect time to inspire your customers with an idea. During a retailer lull in March of 2015, The North Face launched the “I train for” campaign. It appealed to their loyal core audience: people who live their lives in North Face gear, but it also cast the net wider. It asked people to imagine themselves in the gear and describe who they were and what they do. Inspire your Active Explorer consumers to be imaginative. Help them to catalyze their ideas with your brand identity: become a part of their plans.

Join In

One of the hallmarks of the Active Explorer is their connection to communities of people like them. Not only do you need to inspire them, you need to talk to them where they are. Active Explorer communities, or tribes, are living things; they’re full of people sharing information, recommendations and more—they’re effectively helping each other plan adventures and build goals. Right now, June campsite reservations are going on sale in Washington, and we’ve already got campers trading tips for the best sites. They might be unboxing your products in video reviews or shopping in a brick and mortar location, but your customers are always talking. Find out where these tribes thrive and join the fun.

Create Opportunity

As we know, the Active Explorer audience is willing to pay more for quality – and the Ford Motor Company knows it. They’ve just staked their claim to being the car company for the “Swiss Army Life” – building an automobile that stays with their customers through several life stages, over ten years. Winter is the perfect time for fresh starts, big ideas, and new cars are a big part of those plans. Ford’s being smart by reaching their customers when they have a lot of time to consider their options, and start to align their cars with the values of the Active Explorer.

Everyone’s an Active Explorer when it’s 72˚ and sunny. The trouble is, on those days, everyone’s too busy to hear your message. Take some time this holiday to craft your message to your best customers at the moment they’re most likely to hear it. If you need some pointers, we’ll be sitting by the fire, planning our next trail run. Just give us a call.

If you haven’t read our Guide to the Active Explorer, it makes a great stocking stuffer for your whole marketing team. Click here to order your free copy.

Prepare for Active Explorer Season.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re gearing up for rainy season. Shorts are going away, rainproofing is a priority, and we’re looking for the perfect gear to keep our stuff dry from the storms the North Pacific sends our way.

It’s the perfect time to study the Active Explorer.


If you don’t know who the Active Explorer is, you can catch up here. In a nutshell, it’s your most educated and affluent customer, looking to improve their bodies and minds. Active Explorers are seasonal creatures. We love the summer sun, but a little wind and rain isn’t going to keep us off the trail. Our passions are yearlong and nationwide.

Seasons are what keep us grounded. We look forward to the change. We search for fresh apples and fall harvests in the Farmers’ Markets, make a list of hikes that feature fall colors, make sure the tread on our tires can handle a little mud. Our minds are open.

That’s where you come in. When people’s minds are open, you can make a new first impression. Take these three steps to prepare for a whole new customer mindset:

Explore your ecosystem. No matter what you’re selling, you’re not selling in a vacuum. Look at your adjacent products and services to see if they’re offering something you could complement or supplement. For example, if you’re a hardware store, help your Active Explorers find ideas to build a place to store their gear for a long wet winter.

Hiking-Shoes-588x391Get ideas from outside. Take note about how other products and services take advantage of autumn. Automobiles, coffee shops and department stores all have deep-seated reasons to offer new styles, flavors and fashions. If you’re a bank, an insurance agency, or a fast casual restaurant, what could your pumpkin spice be?

Retell your story. If you’re an established business, it may be easy for your customers to forget why they loved you. Every once in a while, you need to remind them. One of our favorite examples is Brooks, a century-old shoe company that decided to focus completely on making the best running shoes in the world. Not only did their customers take another look, but so did everybody else, making them one of the leading specialty running shoe manufacturers in the world.

Next Generation Advertisers

Next Generation AdvertisersFrom the printing press to the radio to the TV to the Internet, technology has always played a vital role in advertising. Now, in the midst of a technological revolution of sorts, the skills required to succeed in marketing are expanding. The development of digital advertising is requiring an entirely new skill set from marketers today. It’s decreasingly about splash pages, catchy creative and maximizing impressions and clicks and increasingly about database infrastructure, content management, JavaScript tracking tags, and second screens. It’s our job, as marketers, to understand this technology so that we can inform our clients about how to best spend their money, as well as to communicate proficiently with development and BI teams about how to best execute and analyze our efforts. Read more

Educational Tools

e-book concept

Doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, engineers, electricians, and real estate agents are only a few of the professionals on a long list of careers that require continuing education. Not on that list: marketers. Now I’m not suggesting that people in business and marketing don’t do our share of on the job learning, we do, but in a world where technology, policy, and practices are changing at a staggering pace, it becomes quickly apparent that if you don’t spend time to keep on top of changing industries you can quickly become outdated and obsolete. On top of that, the lack of standards leaves us with 181,000 self-proclaimed social media experts, gurus, ninjas, mavens, and warriors on Twitter. I can’t just walk into a hospital, decide that I’m a doctor because I saw an episode of House and bandaged up a scraped knee once, yet someone spends a month posting on Twitter and all of a sudden they’re a master?! But I’m not writing to talk about standards. I’m writing to talk about education. Read more

Favorite business books


Over the course of my professional career, I have read what ultimately amounts to a tiny fraction of the ever growing number of business books out there. That being said, I’ve read more than a few. Many of these books seem to repeat the same things over and over. Many spend a lot of ink (or electrons) articulating the importance of a topic without really offering any practical advice on how to do it. And then there are those books that you read and realize that it will change the way you operate.

I can’t put these in any particular order because different days call for different skills, but I want to share what my three favorite business books are; none are about business.  Read more